President Mikhail S. Gorbachev Thursday pronounced himself and other Communists "guilty before the working class" and promised immediate steps to improve food supplies.
Gorbachev said he had concluded agreements for the republics of Estonia, Kazakhstan and the Ukraine to send dairy products to Moscow and Leningrad, where milk is hard to find in stores. Food shortages have caused a public outcry.The Soviet leader also said powdered milk would be taken out of storage and distributed to the people.
Meanwhile, German Red Cross officials said Thursday that they were sending 35 tons of emergency food and supplies to the Soviet Union, starting a huge relief action for the troubled nation.
A German telethon netted pledges of $4.25 million to help Soviets confronted by empty store shelves with the onset of winter.
Germany has been leading international efforts to aid the Soviets. Chancellor Helmut Kohl and Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher both have appealed for private donations for the action.
"Please help relieve the need in the Soviet Union. This is a work of charity and of good neighborliness," Kohl said in a broadcast Wednesday night on ZDF television.
Genscher has said widespread hunger in the Soviet Union could lead to instability that in turn could threaten the rest of Europe.
In a wide-ranging hourlong speech before a conference of the Moscow City Communist Party organization, Gorbachev reiterated his determination to hold the Soviet Union together.
Standing on a podium with an 8-foot-tall bust of Lenin, Gorbachev told the nearly 1,000 conference delegates he realized the country's food and ethnic problems were intensifying and he urged the party to keep the common man in mind.
"We are guilty before the working class, I think, all of us, and me personally," the 59-year-old president and Communist Party general secretary told the audience.
Answering questions delegates submitted in writing, Gorbachev reiterated his desire for a peaceful solution to the Persian Gulf crisis. "Our goal remains unchanged: to achieve a political solution," he said.
He defended himself against criticism for spending too much time abroad, saying that when he became party leader in 1985, the Cold War was the people's foremost concern. Now, he said, their desire for him to focus on domestic problems is testimony to what he has achieved in foreign relations.
While expressing willingness to redistribute power within the Soviet Union, he reiterated his opposition to secession.